My Neighbour Totoro Bluray Review

My Neighbour Totoro: Double Play (2 Discs) (Blu-ray)
Once again the lovely folk at Studio Ghibli and StudioCanal spoil us rotten with new Bluray releases of classic Ghibli films this month. First up is my all-time favourite film (ever!)… “My Neighbour Totoro”. Ostensibly a children’s movie, but a film so magical, wonderful, intelligent and moving that anyone of any age can, and will enjoy it. A charming tale about 10-year-old Saksuki and her inquisitive younger sister Mei who move to a new home in the country to be closer to their mother in hospital. Far from the bustle of the city, they discover a mysterious place of spirits and magic, and the friendship of the big fluffy Totoro woodland creatures.

I never tire of this movie, it works on so many levels. From the magic and mystery of childhood, and the issues children face when faced with the illness of a parent, to ecological concerns and the way that man used to be in harmony with nature. But then it is also a fantastic fantasy adventure, with unique creatures – from the small, medium & large Totoros (think big fluffy plushy bunnies…sort of) to the agile and wily Cat-bus (yes, it is a cat that is a bus…it’ll make sense when you watch the film!) Beyond that it is a coming-of-age tale, with Saksuki learning to take responsibility for herself and her sister, while also helping their hard-working father whilst their mother is in hospital. But then again the film is also about how we can, and should, live with nature, look after the countryside and balance our need for space & technology with nature’s need for our patience and compassion.

With Totoro, the master Hayao Miyazaki created a near-perfect film, entertaining, educational, exciting, wondrous and full of warmth. But he also created the Ghibli studio, the Ghibli logo and even a Ghibli/Totoro foundation that attempts to rescue old Japanese countryside from development and return it to its original state. He also laid down a touch-stone for his films that would follow – of quality, uniqueness, accessibility and fun. My Neighbour Totoro isn’t just a film about big fluffy bunny creatures, it is the start of a true revolution in animated films.

With this new bluray edition we get to enjoy Totoro in a whole new way. The restoration/upscale is phenomenal, with colours outstandingly vibrant and no hint of blurriness or colour-bleed. As someone who has watched the original DVDs endless times, I was truly shocked at the improvement in quality, and on such an old film. I would dearly love to see a feature on how they are achieving these amazing results. I can honestly say that the bluray edition is worth any Ghibli fan owning, it is almost like seeing the film new all over again.

And then there are the bonus features. Not surprisingly, since this is Studio Ghibli’s biggest title (alongside Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle) they have added some very tasty extra items. A full list is below, with several new items that haven’t been included on older DVD editions, but one that stands out is a set of excerpts from a Japanese TV programme looking at the real-world inspirations for Miyazaki and how many Japanese are seeing the worth of saving these beautiful places. These are extra definitely worth watching.
As usual you get the original Japanese audio track plus the English/American dub. The English dub is pretty good, but I would recommend the Japanese original for slightly more depth of character and emotion. There are some great US voices, but the dub isn’t quite up to the standards of Spirited Away, Howl or Ponyo.

Surprisingly the only omission, still, is an HD trailer for the Ghibli collection…we still get the tired old DVD (almost VHS) quality trailer. It is about time Ghibli created a spangly hi-def trailer, they certainly have the material to make it by now!

So go forth and buy My Neighbour Totoro on bluray, you won’t be let-down. It is a superb film, in a beautiful presentation with great-value extras. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe a limited edition version with a Totoro plush toy…but then that’s just me, a self-confessed Totoroholic!

Extras: Storyboards / Creating My Neighbor Totoro (new!) / Creating the Characters (new!) / The Totoro Experience (new!) / Producer’s Perspective: Creating Ghibli (new!) / The Locations of Totoro (new!) / Scoring Miyazaki (new!) / Behind the Microphone / Textless Opening / Textless Closing / Original Japanese Theatrical Trailers / Studio Ghibli Collection Trailers

Arachnoquake SyFy Monster Movie on DVD

Arachnoquake

Ah, the Syfy monster movie. These fill that niche of movie and TV production that does not need to be filled, but would somehow now be missed if they stopped.
Not so much chewing gum for the eyes, than the supermarket budget /value gum you would only consider chewing if there is nothing else in the cupboard.

Released on DVD as an afterthought, very much evident as the fades to adverts are very obvious. This, live all others, is a standard monster movie affair with poor CGI.

The plot covers an invasion of giant, pink, CGI spiders. Oh that breathe fire. And the main plot follow two separate related groups, as they live (or die!) up to their popular culture stereotypes. Plot holes and expected set pieced follow.

The cast is made up of the Syfy staple. Those who were once in huge Science Fiction franchises (Ethan Phillips, aka Nelix in Star Trek Voyager, and the new darling of the made for TV scifi movie – Edward Furlong) coupled along with ‘new faces’ (aka unknowns).

I think SyFy need to up their game. I know the budget for this type of production is LOW. But it is possible to make a great, moving, Scifi/horror film on the tightest budget. If they concentrate on getting a top rate writer and not relying on the creature feature genre. Even the bad CGI still costs money. All that money is on the screen, but more of it should have been diverted to the writing. Clever plot and characterisation mean that CGI spiders are not needed, even if they can breathe fire.

Arachnoquake serves its purpose by filling the airwaves and these are often a fun way to spend a couple of hours, but DVD release, really? When there is so much quality output on the shelves?

Review of French Fantasy Horror Film Livide

LIVID DVD Cover
Livid Review by Neil Gardner

French fantasy horror film ?Livide? by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury is out now on DVD (titled ?Livid? in the UK) in a fanfare of positive reviews. But does it live up to its reputation as an original, scary modern horror?

The horror film world is in a bit of a muddle of styles right now, with everything from torture porn and splatter-fests, to hack n slash and old-school ghost thrillers being churned out. In a way it is a high time for horror fans, with no one style or theme dominating. One style that has benefitted from this egalitarian scattershot approach has been the traditional ghost thriller, the less-gore-more-chills variety of film-making, and Livid very almost nearly falls in to this category.

The film tells the story of a young woman who is training to be a visiting care worker in a French coastal town. She is taken on her first route by a middle-aged woman who is world-weary but wry. She learns that most patients are unable to care for themselves, many don?t speak and some are bed ridden. Finally, they reach a decrepit old mansion way out in the marshes, where she discovers the comatose lady of the house. We learn that it is rumoured the old lady has stashed a hoard of treasure somewhere in the mansion, but no one has ever found it. Talking with her boyfriend and his brother later that evening, the three decide to break in and steal the treasure, thus leading them to a promised life far away from the humdrum existence they currently have. And so they break in, and there begins a series of increasingly tense and creepy room explorations, which finally lead to them encountering the terror within.

As a slice of traditional style old school thriller, Livid works pretty well for about two thirds of its running time. There is a slow-burn build up for the first third, while we learn about the girl, the older woman, the house and the comatose old lady, along with some hints of a child-abduction sub-plot and just enough time to truly dislike the two male leads (such annoying and hateful characters!) When we finally get to the house and start the film proper it takes the directors a while to find their feet. While the soundtrack is superbly jittery and creepy, building tension and atmosphere, the house itself is a little lacking in creeping dread. Although, that said, the lead?s no nonsense approach to breaking and entering and getting the job done is refreshing and modern. But this is undermined by occasional ?There?s something wrong with this place? style comments. Oh dear, foreshadowing of the very bluntest kind!

Finally the film hits the on switch and apparently takes a 90 degree turn away from ghostly chills to creature feature with added violence. The sudden and jarring death scenes are fun and one has the air of originality to it?but the jerk away from creepiness to gore is a jar and feels strangely disjointed. Not disjointed enough to be a work of genius misdirection, just an annoying add-on to please the gore-hounds. The film then becomes something even more bizarre, which I won?t spoil for you, but which is both genuinely interesting to watch yet also head-scratchingly left-of-field. The leading lady (Chloe Colloud) does a good job with some low-tech body horror and with a sudden change of character trait. Which all leads us to the conclusion, a mixture of chase scene, monster-caper, Victorian gothic romance and classic gore. The film ends on a very odd note of redemption and rebirth, but leaves a heck of a lot of questions unanswered.

So?good, bad or ugly? For me Livid doesn?t live up to the hype. There is nothing much original here, no surrealist flights of fancy or amazing feats of storytelling prowess. What we have is a fairly typical slice of modern horror, a hotchpotch of styles and genres held together by a watchable lead actress and a desire to see where the plot is heading. The location is interesting but not in any way required (unlike the house in The Woman in Black), and the male leads are utterly redundant except as gore-fodder. By the end I found myself questioning exactly what it was the film-makers were trying to say with the movie, as it clearly IS trying to say something, just not very coherently. That said, this is not a bad film. It has some beautiful cinematography and superb sound, the choice of actors is strong, and the central horror conceit, while not entirely original, is unusual and would bear the weight of further investigation. The long set-up could do with some trimming down, and the ending could do with less faux-Gothic leanings, but Livid will certainly entertain horror fans who like a bit of variety in their diet. If you are a gore-hound or a traditional ghost story fan, Livid isn?t for you, but may hold your interest.

The DVD comes with a pretty dull behind-the-scenes featurette and some cast interviews, plus a trailer. It is in French with well-produced English subtitles.

All in all, Livid disappointed but not so much that I would damn the film. It is a worthy effort at trying something new, but falls for a few too many obvious clich?s and the film-makers have overly indulged themselves with mixing styles. That said, it succeeds in telling an old story in a new way, and there are enough unexpected twists to keep you guessing. I give it a solid 6.5 out of 10.